Thursday 25 April 2019

Musicians putting Fingal on the map in America

Debut album called Fingal launched in the Catskills by renowned trio

Fingal might be one of Ireland's premier counties, but it now shares the name with one of the best traditional music acts in America - yes, Fingal is big business, on both sides of the Atlantic!

Last week at the Catskills Irish music festival in up state New York, top group Fingal launched their debut album, aptly named Fingal, and it's set to sweep across the States before being released in Ireland.

The group is made up of some of the world stars of Irish music, namely James Keane, Randal Bays and Daithi Sproule. They are all noted experts in the field for many years, but about a year ago formed 'Fingal' and are now much sought after throughout the country.

Speaking from his Queens home, James Keane, brother of the Chieftains member, Sean, revealed the story behind Fingal and the fact that he never associated it with this part of County Dublin until recent years.

'I was born in Drimnagh and as a young man growing up there, I never heard of Fingal, never mind knew where it was. Now it has its own council and identity,' he stated.

But how did one of America's leading groups get the name? 'It's a long story,' he began. As youngsters around Drimnagh, James and Sean Keane were different than the rest. They loved Irish music.

They were not even in their teens when Peggy Jordan, who staged concerts in Dublin, spotted their talent and had them at 'Midnight at the Grafton' in Grafton Street. They played with the McPeak family, Mick O'Connor (now resident in Baldoyle) and others.

'The McPeake family played a great piece called the Lament for Aughrim and it was in two parts, the lament and the jig march,' James explained. Years later Sean and the Chieftains recorded it as the Battle of Aughrim and when James decided to do likewise, he did a bit of research and found the jig was actually called 'Return to Fingal' and centered on Brian Boru and the battle of Clontarf, rather than Aughrim.

Resident in America since 1968, he played all over, including a stint in Canada with Ryan's Fancy, whose shows were recorded by CBS for RTE. Then, just over a year ago, Randal Bays, a gifted fiddle player from Seattle and Daithi Sproule, a Derry native and member of Altan and resident in St Paul, Minnesota, told him they were setting up a group and would he join.

'I jumped at the chance,' he revealed. 'Our problem was getting a name. I was on the phone to the guys and we came up with Errigal, after a road in Drimnagh and the mountain.

I recall shouting the name down the stairs to my wife, Teresa (a Kerry woman) and she replied, did you say Fingal? - to which I replied, THAT’S the name we should go for!'

So the name Fingal was born and since then it's been a rollercoaster ride for the group, playing venues all over. 'We feel the album will go very well and there's been a great reaction already.

We hope to see it released in Ireland pretty shortly too,' James continued. It has a haunting image on the sleeve, two young boys with a pigeon, a picture taken in Belfast 20 years ago by New Yorker Jim Tynan.

In October, James will be coming to Ireland and has decided to take up the offer of a gig in Naul, the Seamus Ennis Centre hosting him on Sunday, October 5th for what is sure to be one of the biggest gigs at the venue in recent times.

'I'm really looking forward to Naul. Sean McPhilbin rang me some time ago and issued the invite and it should be a great night,' James added. Indeed, he can rightly claim to have played with the great Seamus Ennis during his career.

'Again as a young fellow with Sean, we were asked to perform for a Christmas show at the RTE studios in Donnybrook and the set was a family home at Christmas time. We played in one corner with Seamus and Eamon Kelly, the storyteller, was dressed as Santa, in the other!

'We learned a lot from Seamus Ennis.' A founder member of the Castle Ceili Band, James played his last big gig in Ireland three years ago when Des Geraghty allowed him the use of Liberty Hall for a concert. Ceili House recorded it for the internet, so it was beamed to millions across the world.